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This Week in PLOS: Apr 8, 2014

Isolation can lead to detectably shorter telomere lengths in African grey parrots, according to a PLOS One study. An Austrian team used quantitative real-time PCR to measure telomere lengths in red blood cells from dozens of grey parrots ranging in age from less than one-year-old to 45-years-old that had been housed in captivity alone or with another bird. Results from the analysis indicated that telomere lengths tended to dip in grey parrots in social isolation compared to birds the same age housed with another bird. "Our findings provide the first evidence that social isolation affects telomere length," the study's authors say, "which supports the hypothesis that telomeres provide a biomarker indicating exposure to chronic stress."

In PLOS Genetics, researchers from the University of Chicago describe protein quantitative trait loci in lymphoblastoid cells derived from dozens of individuals from the Yoruban population, including protein QTLs that appear to influence chemotherapy response. The team considered levels of 441 signaling and transcription factor proteins in cell lines from 68 Yoruban individuals, looking at protein levels in multiple replicates from each line before and after exposure to two common chemotherapy agents. The pQTL assessment led to two genes with apparent ties to cisplatin or paclitaxel response — an association that the researchers verified through small, interfering RNA knockdown experiments.

A PLOS Biology study by a Yale University team suggests the diversity of activated B cells stems, in part, from bursts of somatic mutation and rearrangements affecting immunoglobulin genes that are prompted by immunoglobulin gene enhancers. Using a reporter assay approach, the study's authors determined that "combinations of [immunoglobulin] enhancers cooperate to achieve strong mutation targeting and that this action depends on well-known transcription factor binding sites in these enhancer elements." That process appeared to be at play across multiple species, they note, including humans, mice, and chickens.